Every elementary and middle school teaches reading, writing, math, and a basic understanding of science. But how many schools teach students how to survive outside of the classroom? The Learning Tree Multi-Cultural School has a special Life Skills Program just for that purpose.
Students in the Life Skills Program are taught how to speak different languages, how to sew, how to garden, and much more. The principal, Nicole Bailey, expects students to take what they have learned and apply it to real life on the outside.
“They learn what is in the classroom and take it out into the world,” says Bailey. “For example, I was having a conversation with a parent and she told me that while in a cab with her daughter heading home, she was surprised that her daughter was able to talk to the cab driver in fluent Spanish. This made me happy.”
The Learning Tree Multi-Cultural School is a non-profit elementary/middle school located in Corona, Queens. Led by Bailey, the school was founded in 1996 and has an ethnically diverse student population that continues to improve academically.
Before she started her own school, Baily worked as a director at a pre-school program where she interacted heavily with the youth and parents. She often consulted with them about school issues, and remained with the pre-school program from 1983 to 1995. She knew that it was time for a change when the owner of the program she worked for relocated; she seized the opportunity to start a special school of her own.
Her goal was to start a school with high standards that made parents a real part of the teaching process. She encourages parents to visit the school to participate in their children’s learning.
The Learning Tree Multi-Cultural School opened in 1996 with roughly 50 students and staff combined. The school curriculum teaches all the basics like math, the sciences, social studies, English language arts, and foreign languages. However, it also starts pre- kindergarten students in Spanish, Arabic, and American Sign Language.
The special programs continue as students advance through the grades. In second grade, students are required to learn how to play the piano and read music. In grades three to eight, students are able to choose what instruments they would like to play, and join the exceptional school band.
The Multi-Cultural School also offers many programs that go beyond the typical classroom. Students are taught how to read a bank statement, and how to handle their own finances through the Student Banking Program. Students are required to deposit money weekly and bank accounts are later set up for them. Every week, students are given a bank statement so that they learn how to read their weekly balances or check to see the activity that took place on their accounts.
There are many obstacles that the Multi-Cultural School has to overcome. Bailey’s long-term goals for her school are to obtain its own facilities, to provide more school equipment, and to increase enrollment. According to Bailey, the idea of sharing the facility with the church can be quite hectic at times.
“A level of set up is a problem,” she says. “We have to set up on Mondays, and then put everything away on Fridays so that the space is cleared for the church on Saturdays and Sundays.”
Her short-term goals are to provide services for students and parents. She wants to create a family-based home program. She also wants to put her school in the spotlight through the media.
“I want to bring more exposure to the school,” she said. “We do a lot of positive things, but we are not well-known.”
Despite this, Bailey and her staff work very hard to keep their students on the right academic path. Students have been encouraged to participate in the Obama Umbrella Program. Students can buy umbrellas from the school as a way to raise money. The goal behind this program is to raise money so that students in each classroom can have an iPad of their own.
According to Bailey, the Multi-Cultural School does not get funded. The school does not have anyone to control grants so it is very difficult to operate when it comes to finances. However, she stated that the school received a grant for two years in a row from Best Buy in the past. She also stated that she works hard at fulfilling her school's financial goals and obligations yearly.
With her focus on her students and the youth, Bailey hopes the Multi-Cultural School will continue to grow and receive outstanding academic achievements. Whether through the entrepreneurship program, the languages offered, gardening, or simply raising money for the school, students will learn the importance of education and what it means to make a difference.
“In order to make a difference, you must first learn to apply yourself,” she said.
* Photo: Adjua Manteba